Racism at the NAACP
Early in February, I tuned in to watch the 46th annual NAACP Image Awards with excitement to see some of the most talented people of color who were honored for their work in the entertainment industry in 2014. As with any Hollywood awards show, I expected to see and hear several things that would both dishonor the gospel and contradict the historic work of the NAACP; something that seems to happen regularly when celebrities are in front of a huge audience and a live mic. However, the opening performance of host and comedian, Anthony Anderson (co-star of Black-ish), and other African-Americans absolutely shocked me. They sang a racist anthem railing against the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Anderson’s lyrics identified award shows like the Golden Globes, the Emmys, and the Oscars as the white award shows, and he suggested that black entertainers do not need those shows when they have their own show, the Image Awards. Ironically, these disappointments happened on a night when the film Selma was honored for its portrayal of the famous Selma march led by civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Anderson’s Startling Lyrics
What I find startling about Anderson’s racist lyrics was how analogous they were to the racist rhetoric of white supremacists in the Jim Crow south. During Jim Crow, white supremacists divided the world between black and white, argued for segregation, made and supported movies in favor of segregation and white supremacy, celebrated whiteness and demonized blackness, and publicly mocked and ridiculed black people whenever they had an opportunity. Anderson’s song demonstrated great irony. On the one hand, he criticized white awards shows and “the man” that hosts them for snubbing black actors. On the other hand, he works for and co-stars in a show that mocks certain kinds of black people on a historically, predominately white network traditionally owned and operated by white leadership. But there is even greater irony with Anderson’s racist song: he performed it at the NAACP Image Awards, an organization that has historically fought against racism and discrimination.
The Spirit of the NAACP
The [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)[(http://www.naacp.org/) was formed in February 1909 by some of the greatest civil rights giants in the United States—Moorfield Storey, Mary White Ovington, and W.E.B. Dubois to name a few. The mission of the organization is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. As I watched and listened to Mr. Anderson’s song, in which he offered, in my view, several racist assaults against predominately white Hollywood, I couldn’t help but ask myself some questions. How does his song fit within the mission of the NAACP? What would the original founders of the NAACP who risked their lives for racial equality, both white and black, think about this song? What would Dr. King say about the lyrics? * How could the NAACP allow Mr. Anderson to perform such a racist and mean-spirited song on a national platform like the NAACP Image Awards?* Mr. Anderson strongly promoted the very racism against which he was singing—the only difference is the color of the person who advocated the racism.
Fighting Racism with Racism
To clarify, I do not deny that Hollywood is racist, bigoted, or snubs black actors. Although I have no firsthand knowledge of this—I am a scholar and a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ after all and NOT an entertainer— I would argue that since Adam’s transgression in Genesis 3 universally affects all people regardless of their race, there are likely many racist white and black people in Hollywood. Yes, based on my very amateur observation about an industry about which I know nothing, the above mentioned awards shows are largely white each year. Yes, the underrepresentation of blacks and other races could reflect racial bias if there is additional evidence besides underrepresentation. But the point in this article is that Mr. Anderson, and many of his black colleagues in the entertainment industry, seem to be fighting against perceived racism in Hollywood with racism. But this is not what the gospel says Christians should do.
The Gospel and Race
Mr. Anderson’s performance on the Image Awards reminds black Christians and Christians from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation that racism is not limited to a specific race, class, age, or geography. His performance reminds us that racism appears in both unsophisticated and sophisticated ways—sometimes in the actions of white supremacists in white sheets, but sometimes from black people in black tuxedos at glamorous awards shows. Racism is a universal power that rules and reigns in the hearts of every single child of Adam and Eve like an evil and chaotic tyrant. This is due to the universal power of their transgression and because of everyone’s personal participation in their transgression (see Romans 3:23). The only solution to this internal hatred that all people have toward one another, regardless of their race, is the bloody and resurrection-empowered gospel of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, who died for Jews and Gentiles to reconcile them, first, to God and, second, to one another (see Ephesians 2:11–22). Indeed, Christians should boldly speak out against racism in the public square, but they should fight against racism with the weapon of the gospel of racial reconciliation instead of with the evil weapon of racism. And I am concerned that both black Christians and white Christians in America grossly misunderstand this point. May Evangelicals preach this gospel to our kids, families, and neighbors. May we faithfully live this gospel of racial reconciliation in the world so that neither white nor black racism within Hollywood will shape our understanding of gospel-centered racial reconciliation for the nations.